Does Curiosity Kill the Cat?
Humans have desires inside of them; when the time comes, these desires will show their true selves. Some of these desires include being good or evil, being loved and cared for, and a desire to be selfish. However, one trait of human nature that is the root of all these other desires. This human nature characteristic is curiosity, the desire to learn more than what has already been learned. This desire is represented well in the short story Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Shelley did not write about just this one aspect of human nature, however, but about several other aspects. Yet, curiosity is consistently evident through the actions of Walton, Frankenstein, and the creature, causing most of the other desires of human nature that Shelley has written about.
Shelley wrote the story to show the audience there is something to learn from the desires she expressed in the book, specifically curiosity. Being too curious can lead to making good or bad decisions; this is conveyed through the actions of Frankenstein and the creature Frankenstein was only a teenager when his curiosity got the best of him. On a trip to Thonon, Frankenstein and his family were forced to stay inside because of the tempestuous weather.
There he discovered a book that would be the first step on a long path of bad decisions. Mary Shelley writes, "[Frankenstein] opened [the book] with apathy. Then the theory which he attempts to demonstrate, and the wonderful facts he relates, soon change [his] feeling into enthusiasm" (22). If Frankenstein never opened the book, he never would have become so interested in the science field. Even Mary Poovey, who wrote "My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster" agrees that "The fatal impulse this volume sparks is then kindled into passionate enthusiasm" (346). If Frankenstein had never opened that book or had even picked another book, then his curiosity would not have led him to yearn for the desire to know more about ancient science. This would not have then led him to be infatuated with the ideas of the book, including the ability to raise up the supernatural. At the time Frankenstein did not realize that all these curious ideas were lodged in his brain subconsciously. He imagined that he could find a new scientific outlet and was struck with an idea from his childhood. The curiosity that Frankenstein tasted when he was thirteen continued to linger on to the start of his college years.
As he went to college, at the age of seventeen, he felt a connection to certain subjects and not to others. The studies that came along with comprehending knowledge of life and death were taking a toll on his body and his social life. Shelley states, "[his] cheek had grown pale with study, and [his] person had become emancipated with confinement" (33). All the time Frankenstein spent studying and gathering information, was the time he could have been using to stay healthy and to keep in contact with his family and friends who worried back home. Poovey calls those losses "social consequences" as she comments, "It comes as no surprise, that Frankenstein's love for his family is the first victim of his growing obsession" (347). Poovey concurs that Frankenstein's curiosity led him on a track of obsession, ultimately leading to the creation of the creature. Shelley and Poovey both agree that curiosity led to an ambitious mind, that resulted in a tired and lonely man. Frankenstein's mind occupied with thoughts of where to gather supplies and the specifics on the idea of making what he thought would be a person. When Frankenstein created the creature, Shelley changed the focal point from Frankenstein's curiosity to that of the creature.
When the creature was first created, Frankenstein abandons him and he was forced to fend for himself. He was a child who wanders around, trying to figure out what part he was to play in this big world. Since he did not know what to think or do, "No distinct ideas occupied [his] mind; all was confused" (Shelley 71). In this state, the creature had nothing to think about, because he did not know what interested him. All he could do was learn from observations of the people and objects around him. In his careful observing, he discovered for himself how to perform certain tasks which makes being curious a good thing. In "The Reading Monster" by Patrick Brantlinger, the author mentions that "the monster is perforced an autodidact" (468). Brantlinger is trying to say that the creature had to teach himself how to act like a normal human, with emotions and thoughts. At that moment a kick start to human nature's curiosity was the best learning system to the creature could have that would enable him to learn through his experiences. When the creature was narrating the story, he told Frankenstein how he had studiously watched the De Lacey family to acquire the language they were speaking. By being curious enough to want to learn about the sounds that were coming from the family's mouths, the creature was able to differentiate the tone of the words. The creature wanted Frankenstein to know how he, "By great application" learned and applied the words fire, milk, bread, and wood" [as well as] the names of the cottagers themselves" (Shelley 77). It took time and effort, but as Brantlinger remarks, "[the creature] learn[ed] to speak and to read in isolation" because of the creature's human nature to learn more (471). The creature, however, did not stay on a good path with his curiosity. He let the dark side of human nature take over his thoughts and actions, which led to a path of destruction and despair.
As most adults know, children young and naive are easily influenced by their experiences. The creature is the same way, once something caught his attention, he was fixated. The book discusses how the creature took a fascination with the De Lacey family. His curiosity led to fantasies of his life if he befriended them. When the time came the creature panickily "[seized] the hand of the old man, [and] cried, "Now is the time! -save and protect me! You and your family are the friends whom I seek' (Shelley 94). The creature was being na've in thinking that they would accept him for who he was without question. This event knocked down the first domino of bad decisions for the creature. Christa Knellwolf, who wrote "Geographic Boundaries and Inner Space," also acknowledges that the creature's self-teaching, reading, and being unwanted by the De Lacey family caused the creature to be emotionally unstable, and in turn, led to irrational decisions (511). If the creature just left well enough alone, stating that after he learned how to speak by monitoring the De Laceys and, teaching himself to read, then he would not have been rejected by Frankenstein, the boyfriend, and even the De Laceys themselves.
Curiosity is a good quality to have and can lead to positive results when used in moderation, such as learning a language or figuring out how to read. If not regulated, too much curiosity can lead to devastation and misery, as seen through the perspectives of Frankenstein and the creature in Mary Kelley's Frankenstein. The readers learn there are aspects of curiosity that need to be taken into consideration when discussing the different directions that curiosity can lead to for both Frankenstein and the creature. Nevertheless, each author has mostly the same information when referring to the idea of curiosity being able to corrupt a person. In the end, Frankenstein and the creature's curiosity led to an obsession with each other that eventually ended with their deaths.